Earlier today, Apple made the iOS 4.3 available to its customers via iTunes, two days ahead of its previously announced March 11th release date.

iOS 4.3 is the release that will ship with the iPad 2, but it will also work with the iPhone 3GS, the AT&T iPhone 4, the third- and fourth-gen iPod touch, and the original iPad. If Apple sticks to its normal summer release schedule for new iOS versions, 4.3 will likely be the last major revision to iOS 4 before iOS 5 comes down the pike.

With this update, Apple has pulled the plug on iPhone 3G and second-generation iPod Touch users – rather than giving them a version of the 4.3 release stripped of its more performance-intensive features, the company has simply declined to issue iOS 4.3 for these devices at all. Also missing from the support list is the Verizon iPhone, though I suspect that this will be rectified through either a separate iOS 4.3 build or perhaps a 4.3.x build at some point in the near future.

The end of support for older devices isn’t exactly surprising, though I do wish that Apple had at least waited until iOS 5 to completely drop support for the slower hardware – Apple was selling new second-gen iPod Touches as recently as September 2010, and it continues to sell them refurbished as of this writing. All things must pass, but to cut off such recent customers seems a bit harsh. Still, Apple’s willingness to be the bad guy in this instance does help to prevent the hardware and software fragmentation endemic to the Android platform.

Older hardware aside, this article will focus mostly on what iOS 4.3 brings to users of existing devices. This is partly because the iPhone 3GS and first-generation iPad are what I’ve got to play with, and partly because most of the iPad 2-exclusive features relate to FaceTime, which by now is a thoroughly known quantity for iOS users.

A major component of the update is improved JavaScript rendering speed, courtesy of the same Nitro engine found in the desktop version of Safari. Apple says the new engine is about twice as fast as the old one, but is it true?

SunSpider Javascript Benchmark 0.9

Sunspider isn’t everthing, but as a standard benchmark it’s a useful tool for measuring relative performance - relative to iOS 4.2.1, iOS 4.3 is actually a bit more than twice as fast at running JavaScript.

This is a welcome and impressive improvement, especially for those of us who aren’t using Apple’s latest and greatest. The Motorola Xoom is included for comparison, and while JavaScript performance isn’t quite as good on the original iPad, iOS 4.3 does a lot to close the gap, especially given the iPad’s older internals.

In practice, I wouldn’t say there’s a night-and-day difference, but pages seem to load with a bit more pep. No, it’s not a scientific analysis, but you can rest easy knowing that iOS 4.3 isn’t going to slow your device down while you’re on the Web. 

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  • tipoo - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Yeah...Still sucks though, considering the 8GB Touch they were selling last year was 2'nd gen hardware, thats an awfully quick end of support. Reply
  • PrinceGaz - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    I would have thought that iTunes Streaming would be the most useful feature for 8GB 2nd gen iTouch users (like myself). Having only 8GB of space (in practice less than 7GB) onboard for all your music, video, and of course apps means being able to stream music and especially videos/movies from home when in wifi coverage would be a great addition, and one which would certainly be well within the capability of the hardware (it can already stream videos from YouTube, BBC iPlayer, etc). Reply
  • vol7ron - Wednesday, March 09, 2011 - link

    Just upgraded... don't really see a difference, except Safari was like "can't open this page" - is that how it's supposed to be faster? Reply
  • bplewis24 - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    It's opening the page so fast, your eyes aren't able to process the render... so you only see the subliminal image by default.

    Brandon
    Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Its just saving you from porn by not showing any of the web. Its a feature! Reply
  • sprockkets - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    "Sorry, iPhone 3GS users, but this feature won’t be available for you."

    Officially, lol.

    "Still MIA is an improved implementation of the AirPrint feature, introduced in iOS 4.2, which was originally intended to allow iOS users to print to any printer shared via iTunes by a PC or Mac. This feature was scaled back at the eleventh hour to support only direct printing to a handful of mostly-new printers built to support the feature. Workarounds exist to get it working with any printer, but official support for any ol’ printer has never materialized, and Apple has never offered much of an explanation."

    One apple nutcase thought it is because HP has the methods of doing so all patented.
    Reply
  • kigoi - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    those sunspider results for the 4.3 iphones are both off their typical scores by about 15%. do they have background processes running? Reply
  • Azsen - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Have the provided a function to close down all the open apps at once? It's so slow having to do it one by one. Reply
  • MobiusStrip - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    Have they provided an option to close apps when you "close" them under Mac OS? Nope.

    Apple has some kind of stick up its ass about quitting things. They love to see resources wasted. Never mind the fact that the user manually launched the app, so he should be able to manually quit it just as easily. Otherwise, why not launch every app on the system at startup?

    More Apple hypocrisy.
    Reply
  • Vadatajs - Thursday, March 10, 2011 - link

    What the hell does that have to do with anything? This isn't about OSX.

    Furthermore, Mac OS has always closed applications when you _quit_ them.
    Reply

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